Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

More on the Brown situation

Posted by chinesecanuck on September 15, 2008

Kai recently responded to my post on non-whites being referred to as “brown.” Kai wanted to know why I objected to the term when many non-whites are indeed, “brown,” including Chinese farmers.  The term “brown” just isn’t accurate.  While Kai does mention southern Chinese farmers being dark, what about northern Chinese urbanites?  Even southern urbanites aren’t that dark.  Japanese?  Koreans?  They’re more of a cream colour to me.  In any case, the “brown” term has class connotations.  As with Europe, historically, most East Asian cultures have considered lighter skin as a beauty standard.  Peasants = dark; aristocracy = light.  Calling someone of East Asian descent “brown,” at especially for older people can be very insulting.

Kai also brought up solidarity.  I don’t think there’ll ever be solidarity between different non-white groups.  I don’t even think there’ll be solidarty within same cultural/racial/ethnic groups. There’ll always be generational differences, cultural differences and class differences.  A second generation Chinese Canadian probably has more in common with a multigenerational rural Canadian than someone from rural China.  There are differences between Chinese Canadian groups as well.  The wants and needs of suburban-raised, upper middle class, second generation Chinese Canadians like myself are different from a second generation Chinese Canadian who grew up in the projects.  Multigeneration Chinese Canadians (most live out west) also have different needs and wants.


15 Responses to “More on the Brown situation”

  1. nezua said

    but there already is solidarity between non-whites! even today! i chill with these people, we have solidarity. 🙂

  2. Kai said

    Thanks for your response. I’m unconvinced by your argument, though. Black folks obviously aren’t “black” and white folks obviously aren’t “white”. Racial designations are obviously not chromatically accurate in a hyper-literalist manner and aren’t meant to be. And if some folks prefer to be associated with aristocracy via colorism and other retrogressive cultural cues, that’s just too bad; screw them, I will not cater to their classist prejudices. Moreover, my life and the people in it contradict your claim that there can never be solidarity between non-white groups. So I’ll continue using the term and encouraging others to do so. Peace.

  3. Kai, I still don’t get it. How exactly are cream-coloured Japanese people, “brown”? I thought brown had to be at least latte-coloured.

    Nezua: What kind of solidarity? Please elaborate.

  4. As a Puerto Rican woman whose skin that holds her together would be described as light, my identity as a woman of color or “brown” has less to do with if I pass some sort of color test and more to do with a legacy of global colonialism and U.S. racism. This is where the solidarity is. White and brown are metaphors that were created by the colonial powers and as much as they are based in falsehoods, their impact on the day to day lives of people around the world are real. Some of the most powerful work I have been involved in , some of the most profound relationships I have been involved with have been with other non-white people, not just Ricans, not just Latinos. It’s about the lines that connect us. All else is divide and conquer politics.

  5. That’s interesting, Maegan. But my question is: What kind of solidarity does a middle class person of Chinese descent have with someone who is, say, Latino and poor (I know, stereotypes)? It’s pretty probably that the person in the former group is involved with a community association which helps someone from the latter. Is that real solidarity?

  6. Kai said

    Chinesecanuck, you’re not making any sense. Either you’re being willfully obtuse or you honestly need more to do a bit more learning and living in order to acquire the requisite background to meaningfully engage this broad, complex, historically-loaded, multi-disciplinary subject. You have not engaged any of the points raised by Nezua, Maegan, or myself but merely side-stepped them and in fact thrown out racist and classist stereotypes for no conceivable reason, while offering a bleak pessimism about solidarity which is really laziness masked by defeatism. Maybe I’ll mention this exchange in an upcoming Addicted To Race podcast; other than that, let’s call it a day. Adios.

  7. Kai,

    I’m not a westcoaster or from Hawaii whose family has been in the country for generations. My parents came here in the early 70s, just a few years after immigration restrictions loosened up. In any case, do we really have to look at it from a historical perspective? What about the present? I realize that my 80s and 90s upbringing in Canada would have been impossible (at least in this part of the world) just a few decades ago, but it IS realistic now. Is that wrong? Are you trying to say that thousands of Chinese Canadians are sell-outs or forgetting their past (which isn’t really their past – most Chinese Canadians, at least in Ontario are first or second generation. The vast majority of third generation Chinese Canadians are very, very young) because they went to prep school and played tennis at a formerly (race) restricted country club?

  8. Cinesecanuck- It’s just a difference in the philosophy of how to deal with race in North America.
    It’s pretty common for many to buy into the whole Tim Wise philosophy of; White (culture, history, perspective) = Bad , Everyone Else = Oppressed.
    As I stated in your earlier post;
    White = Western European (or in cases of extreme racists, White = All Accomplishments)
    Brown = Other.
    Your preference to catagories by social status is just as valid as those who choose to do so by race (well WASP v. Other).

  9. ^^^

    But I still don’t understand *WHY* “brown” must be used, if it is completely off. I don’t understand why other words CAN’T be used. Brown makes everyone sound disadvantaged, when that is NOT the case. Brown is muddy. It is poor-sounding. It’s worse than “minority.” It’s insulting and makes people sound like they are unpolished and uneducated.

  10. Chinuck- Exactly.
    White is the default state of being.
    Would “taupe” be a better word for other? Brown is just arbitrary and meaningless (unless a meaning is attached or understood).

  11. Actually, no. I prefer actually referencing a person’s heritage. It makes them more of an individual. Please note that the first time I heard the term “brown” as a reference to anyone who isn’t white was on a radical ethnicity board. The person who used the term was not white either.

  12. Personally, I’ll refer to a person in any way that they prefer.
    With Blacks – African-American or Black.
    With Asians – By country of orgin or just Asian
    With whites – By country of orgin or just White.
    The term “Brown” is just code for “Other”. With White being the default. Some use it as an “Us vs. Them” instrument.

  13. I understand where you’re coming from, John, but “brown” seems like something that ethnic activists invented. And as you probably know, most ethnic activists aren’t as PC as they think they are.

  14. Not as PC?
    I don’t think that that is their intent.
    But aren’t ALL terms invented by someone?

    (Are you busy with work? Where’s your new post?)

  15. John:

    Yes, very busy with work!

    Re terms: I just find “brown” dirtier than other terms.

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